On Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged graduates at Morgan State University to "change the rules." (Catherine Rentz / Baltimore Sun video)
Refreshingly, at the December Morgan State University graduation, Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivered a relatable keynote address to almost 500 graduates. She spoke bluntly, not the sugar-coated, obligatory euphemisms that are quintessential for graduation speeches. She cautioned these graduates, many of whom are black, that hard work will not assure them equal access to opportunity and advancement. Rather, she said, there are “two sets of rules: one for the wealthy and the well-connected, and one for everybody else. Two sets of rules: one for white families and one for everybody else. That’s how a rigged system works. And that’s what we need to change.”
I have heard numerous graduation speeches, as student, family, faculty and guest. This was not a rah-rah message about how these graduates — many have overcome huge obstacles — will lead the world, but rather a necessary call to action. She spoke about us, for us:, “I’m here with a bolder message: It’s time to change the rules… Rules matter. And you have the power to make this county a more perfect union, make it the nation you want it to be.”
Unfortunately, I know too well that rules are rigged for people of color, as well as, on the basis of gender, creed, sexual-orientation, disability and any characteristic not resembling the founding fathers.
I know as a female Ph.D. graduating with honors that my impressive resume or demonstrated ability to perform a job are never enough to demand salaries commensurate to male counterparts. Yet, whenever I challenge H.R. departments about this disparity, I am either chastised for discussing salary data or disregarded because my salary was higher than other women at my level. Despite achieving consistent outcomes of superior profits, quality work products and high employee morale, we women multi-taskers, perform numerous uncompensated, tacit duties as social director, mentor and mom, entertainment organizer and “work wife” which are never factored into our compensation.
It’s time, Maryland, to address the wage gap where white women make 84 percent of their male counterparts, which averages out to $10,074 less in annual earnings. Black women make an average of $22,054 less per year than white men. Passing a Pay Equity for All Act, which prohibits employers from seeking salary history during the hiring process, is the first step towards parity in pay for women. Such legislation would ensure that potential employees are paid based on their worth and job requirements, not perpetuate a cycle of undervaluing qualified female candidates.
I know that advancement for aspiring women leaders is often denied or deferred. Women of child-bearing age are often put on the “mommy track” without their knowledge, with training and leadership opportunities delayed years behind their male counterparts, limiting their mobility into management. Although women represent 47 percent of the workforce — and since the late 1980s are outpacing men in college attendance and now earning 59 percent of all master’s degrees — women lag in leadership positions across industries and occupations. According to the Center for American Progress, women represent 30 percent of college presidents, 24 percent of Congress, 28 percent of state legislators, 19 percent of equity law partners, 18 percent of state governors, 16 percent of medical school deans, 13 percent of chief financial officers and 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
I know that overtime pay and opportunities to supplement income are allotted to women in a disproportional manner. Yet, I was stunned that a state employer, Morgan State University, would limit my earning ability as a tenured faculty member while I am serving as a delegate in the Maryland State House of Representatives, with rigged rules mandating a “leave of absence without pay” forcing me to solely rely on my delegate’s pay, which is about one third of my university salary. As a female worker in the twilight of her career, not only does this impact my day-to-day cash flow, but also it severely impacts contributions to my retirement fund.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation report underscores by age 85, young, well-paid women have accumulated 38 percent less wealth than male counterparts and this disparity worsens when women have worked part-time or have employment gaps. Maryland needs legislation that collects and reports data on wages including base pay, overtime and supplemental pay by gender, industry, occupation, level and tenure to highlight these inequalities.
Senator Warren spoke the truth, and I am resolved to fight for pay equity for Maryland women during the 2019 Maryland General Assembly. Take heed: Rules matter — it’s time to change the rules.